“Quite apart from explicit religious belief, every time that a human being succeeds in making an effort of attention with the sole idea of increasing [her] grasp of truth, [she] acquires a greater aptitude for grasping it, even if [her] efforts produce no visible fruit.” Simone Weil, Waiting For God
I think and write a lot about ‘truth.’ I love truth and I hate truth. I love truth for its security, for its comfort, for its ease at organizing thoughts and feelings and, of course, for its honesty. Relationships are never simple however, and I find that all the reasons I love truth are also the reasons I hate truth. This dichotomy speaks also to the relationship I have with myself; one woman in two worlds, or in other words, an ordinary woman and a philosopher of religion.
Truth is fundamentally tricky in its deceptive simplicity. There are three basic ways the dictionary describes the word truth. The first has to do with a quality – the quality or state of being true. The second references fact – that which is in line with reality. The third becomes more problematic; it includes the language of belief – a fact or belief accepted as true.
Three ‘truths’ have been brought to my attention and held in my mind over the last week, all three expressing this love/hate relationship. The first is the most recent. I have been following a discussion of the truth of biology as it pertains to sex and gender. Sex is the biological truth of male and female reproductive characteristics. Gender, however, is the truth of the biologically determined human being’s understanding of the ‘self’ in relation to it. One is objective and verifiable; the other is subjective and often in conflict with the former. Both are true and, interestingly, gender conflict offers an understanding of truth as a manifestation of an ongoing conflict. In other words, gender conflict reveals the truth of “I am both and neither.”
The second truth is the truth of love. It would seem that no one should have reason to question the truth of love, but as it turns it out, love has become a bastion for competing truth definitions. This is both implicitly and explicitly displayed over the popular debates of same sex love and marriage.
The implicit attempts at truth definition reveals insecurity – If your love is the same as mine yet looks completely different, your difference from me makes me fear you are taking something away from me; therefore your truth of love cannot be true. The explicit attempts at truth definition contain the same subjective qualities as the truth of gender. It is an expression of how I feel, how I understand myself in relation, and how I can best move through life in truth and honesty. Conflict abounds here also, however, the truth of the latter is not dependent on the former, nor does it require an ongoing relationship between the two.
The third truth is typically discussed as ultimate truth, or in other words, the really real truth. With respect to the three types of truth identified in the dictionary, however, this ultimate truth falls within the problematic category of ‘belief accepted as truth.’ I am speaking here, of religious truth, or the truth of God. What are we to make of the idea of true belief? A belief is a firmly held opinion or conviction, but those are subjective in nature and most often not verifiable. However, when a belief is called true, it is weighted the same as, for example, the verifiable truth of biological sex. More interesting still, this heavily weighted truth often superimposes itself on the other two with premeditated (at best) or sinister (at worst), expectation. For example, through the truth of religious belief, it is found acceptable to discredit other truths.
Truth discrediting Truth is, for me, the greatest example of the lie of truth. It is at once a theological problem, a philosophical problem, and unfortunately, a human crisis. The crisis that truth creates is one of pain, suffering, and for many, the ultimate denial and/or destruction of the self. The longer I think and study and write and listen to truth stories, the more I am inclined to believe that the love of truth, the searching for truth, and the holding of truth is really nothing more than an unhealthy perseveration on attempts to alleviate the fear that uncertainty brings.
This brings me to the point where I can begin to explain the dichotomy of truth in lived experience, at least for myself. There are certain truths that I have experienced as a woman, that are different from the truth expectations that my field of study holds for me. There are certain realities particular to the female experience, most of which are influenced by the weight of religious truth, that create a tear in the comforting fabric of simplicity, security, and organization. Truth is disrupted by the chaos of life.
When you are of a gender or persuasion or orientation or color or group that is marginalized in the face of social authority, your truth is discredited by the truth of the power over you. Your ability to live honestly is subject to the dishonesty of your oppressors. In my own case, my being a woman holds certain expectations of both my strengths and weaknesses. It has historically been assumed that my ability to reason is less developed and less efficient than a man’s. It has also been assumed that my associations to others (e.g. children, parents, the earth) limit the accessibility I might have in understanding with the necessary philosophical purity that my field requires. It is the case that in 2012, these assumptions are less strong than were once held, but their implications linger and can still be felt.
And so it goes with truth…things that were once obvious, like the inferiority of women, are now truths less strongly held, but they are no less historical truths. Women were ostracized, beaten, raped, mutilated, ridiculed, imprisoned, and killed for speaking out against this historical truth, as are men and women of other oppressed groups even today. When do we arrive at the place in which truth does not hurt or maim or kill? Where is the truth that is not bound and determined by passionate self-interest? A truth of this nature is elusive (at best) and untrue (at worst).
Perhaps rather than, as Simone Weil says, try to increase our grasp at truth, we should apply this sentiment to wisdom. I cannot help but see the gift and beauty of wisdom as an understanding of the fallacy of truth – a looking beyond the obvious, through the power structures, and within the subjective – to find not truth, but the potential of possibility, the unity within difference, and the transcendent in the self.
The wise woman does not look for truth, for she has been beaten with it; it is possible the wise woman sits with her self in reflective anticipation of recognizing the wisdom of the ‘other’ and sharing to create a new fabric of diversity, harmony, and a multitude of differentiated loves.
This article is cross posted at Feminist Philospher: A Woman Who Speaks.
Leanne Dedrick, Ph.D.: Graduate of the women studies in religion program at Claremont Graduate University, Leanne’s research centers around the relationship and points of conflict between feminism, philosophy, and theology. Her dissertation considers the question “Can There be a Feminist Philosophy of Religion?” Her current writing pursuits involve an articulation of a Feminist Atheology. As a single mother of two daughters, Pisces, and CA beach bum, she and her lovely girls can be spotted near or in the ocean when she is not writing her latest musings.